Information on how to run faster, lift stronger and think deeper

Stronglifts can't overhead press [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Aug 1, 2018 9:30:00 AM

Stronglifts can't overhead press


If you can not overhead press it is usually due to lack of strength, mobility or space. This article will show you how to address each of these challenges and overcome them. In the end, you will learn whom you can turn to push your overhead press even further and set yourself a meaningful challenge.

Get the free 80 page Stronglifts 5x5 ebook

Why can you not overhead press

If you are doing Stronglifts you will also get to know the overhead press. Here are the most common reasons I see why you can not overhead press:


  • Lack of strength
  • Lack of shoulder mobility 
  • Lack of space


Some people just lack the strength to overhead press with 20kg right from the start. If you weigh 40kg to 60kg an overhead press of 20kg is already quite decent. This is one of the main challenges with Stronglifts 5x5. It does not account for individual differences. Compared to the deadlift, squat and bench press you have the least leverage. Therefore it is the comparatively hardest lift pound by pound in the Stronglifts program. 


To address the lack of strength you can do overhead presses with dumbbells or kettlebells. This way you can progress from 2kg to 20kg until you feel comfortable with a barbell. I personally prefer kettlebells over dumbbells. They just feel better for my wrists. Simply use the same progression as with Stronglifts if your gym has the necessary dumbbells and kettlebells available. Ease into it and learn proper technique. Focus more on execution and less on how man plates you have on each side. 


If you lack the shoulder mobility to do the overhead press it is time to stretch. Sometimes a lack of mobility in your arms and shoulders is not that apparent. If you have trouble to straighten your arms during the overhead press look into stretches. To improve mobility you can either do yoga or use kettlebells. Personally, I prefer kettlebells. Kettlebell halos are a great warm up before a bench press or overhead press session. For more advanced lifters you can also use a tool like the ShouldeRök from Chris Duffin.


The last point can be a lack of space. If your gym has very low ceilings or you train at home you might not be able to do the full lift. In this case, you can simply do the overhead press while seated. Get a bench and set it up in your rack. Take care to be close to the J cups when you unrack the weight. Use lesser weight than you would with a normal overhead press. Sitting down takes your lower back and legs out of generating force. Being close to the rack position helps in case you struggle. You have less ability to move while seated compared to the normal overhead press. 


In most cases, it is one of these three points that keep you from doing the overhead press. Fixing them will help you to follow the program.


When I started with Stronglifts


When I started with Stronglifts I had no problems with the overhead press. In fact, together with the bench press, it was one of the exercises I enjoyed most. I bench pressed a lot in my teenage years and also did Judo for 12 years. This builds strong arms and weak legs compared to someone who would spend all of their time running a proper powerlifting program.


I progressed from an empty bar to an overhead press of 100kg now. One of the best additions to my training to boost my overhead press even further were Turkish get-ups. The static power development is something you will not get out of many other exercises. I added those when I was already on Jim Wendler 531 and had stopped to do Stronglifts


Push press or overhead press


You will find some discussion about the differences between the push press and the overhead press on the internet. The overhead press does not utilize leg drive. You only push the bar upwards with the strength of your arms. The push press utilizes leg and hip drive to get the bar moving without squatting. The hips stay almost in the same place. If you were to lower yourself at the same time to a squat or split squat position while pushing the bar overhead we would be talking about a jerk.

The more you drive from the hips and legs and the deeper you can get under the bar quick, the more weight you will be able to get over your head. While all of these movements get the weight above you, they are not an overhead press. You are usually the weakest when you do the overhead press. This is why there is a discussion that a 100kg of the overhead press does not equal 100kg push press. 

Strictly speaking, Stronglifts is designed with the overhead press. No leg drive or hip drive allowed. For beginners, I would recommend sticking with this. It minimizes injury risk from abrupt movements. For advanced lifters, I personally think it does not matter whether they do a push press or overhead press. Powerlifters do not compete in lifting weights overhead. The sports where you compete in overhead lifting mostly do not specify whether it by the overhead press, push press or jerk. The heaviest weights are usually brought overhead via a push press. 


You can overhead press


Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from it you can overhead press. I have outlined how you can work on your strength, mobility and space you train in to overcome any obstacles. Once you have done your first year of training you might want to look to others sources than Stronglifts to develop your overhead press even further. I found that Strongmen competitors are the best source for tips and tricks to go big on this lift. I would recommend



For advice and inspiration. Brian Alsruhe is not that well known but has a great YouTube channel. He is fun to watch, passionate and a big guy. He lifts heavy on the conventional big three and also competes in Stronglifts. If you want to build your own Atlas Stones he even has tips for that. Alan Thrall works along the same lines as Brian. The big difference is that is smaller and weighs less. He is interesting if you are not built like an ox. Finally, I recommend 4x world's strongest man YouTube channel if you want to learn more about the life of the pros. Here you can see what it means to make a living out of being strong. 

If you want to set yourself some lifetime goals watch the Rogue documentary Stoneland. I got some inspiration for it for my personal goal setting and plans to lift the stones which are in Scotland.


Further reading




Topics: Lift stronger, Stronglifts 5x5, Fitness, Strength